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Paperless Office Software: 14 Web Apps to Harness the Cloud, Boost your Efficiency, and Reclaim your Desk

By: Daryl Bernstein / Monday, July 16, 2012


Those still dreaming of a paperless office can wake up: the explosion of online software and mobile devices into the professional landscape has made that dream possible and practical for the first time. This article will help identify the most common sources of paper cluttering your desk and filling up your filing cabinets, and introduce some of the best paperless office software and tools to head these problems off at the source.

The Magic of Paperless Office Software

Going paperless can drastically reduce your paper and printing budget. You’ll also save money on office and storage space, with bulky file cabinets no longer an issue. Delicate records will be cheaper to preserve and easier to access, since electronic documents are easier to search and sort. Going paperless is also good for the environment, reducing landfill waste, overforesting, and use of hazardous chemicals found in many inks. And just about everybody will be grateful to never have to use a printer again.

Analysts and pundits have been predicting the shift to a paperless office for decades—the term was first used in a BusinessWeek article in 1975. Yet, despite its status as the “office of the future” for nearly 40 years, the paperless office is still nowhere near standard in most industries—and the reason is poor implementation. It’s easier to focus on replacing the paper you already have rather than the paper you’re yet to have, even if that gets you nowhere closer to solving the problem once and for all. Instead of trying to tackle that ponderous mountain of invoices and sticky notes on your desk first, this guide will go in a different direction. Let’s start by identifying some common sources of incoming paper, and the best tools to replace each traditional process.

1. Move Document Signing Online

Legal forms and contracts are some of the final holdouts of the paper world. When it’s time to get an agreement, proposal, NDA, or form signed, even the staunchest paperless office aficionado will revert to the old "print, sign, and fax" tradition. RightSignature, however, has the power to turn this convention on its head. Our popular cloud-based software-as-service enables you to create a form or send an existing document to one or many signers, who can apply a legally binding electronic signature online—which looks just like a regular signature. The signed copy is automatically returned and archived, and never once is a printer or fax machine involved.

RightSignature also boasts seamless integration with dozens of other cloud-based paperless office software programs, including many of those mentioned in this article. These integrations are crucial, making digital records significantly more convenient to share and transport than your old paper files. For example, the integration between RightSignature and BambooHR lets you simplify your employee onboarding process and get employment forms filled out and signed online.

2. Digitize Your Notes to Self

Paper’s largest advantage is effortless mobility. You can write down a personal memo or to-do list at home, put it in your pocket, and take it with you to work or while running errands. Today, however, we are rarely further away than our pocket or handbag from an internet capable device, and with the right software it’s easier than ever to let your notes move with you.

Take Evernote, for example—a cloud-based service that lets you create and edit notes, documents, images and web links and synchronizes automatically to any computer or mobile device you might use. Evernote aims to help its users remember everything, and does so without burying them in sticky notes. And to replace your day planner, consider Google Calendar, our favorite calendar manager, and Tungle, a convenient web application for coordinating meeting times easily.

3. Streamline Financial Record-Keeping

Along with email, this is the area that has the most adoption already. Digital accounting is long since standard, but new solutions have expanded the range of what users can reasonably expect from their financial records software. Xero is accounting software that follows its users, giving full mobile access to records you might have otherwise buried in Quicken or miles of paper records.

Meanwhile, Shoeboxed is a service that lets you digitize and organize your receipts automatically, and will integrate them directly with any other accounting software you might use. QuoteRoller produces professional-looking online proposals without paper hassles. Finally, Harvest and FreshBooks are two excellent tools for businesses or independent contractors for tracking work time, managing billing, and sending invoices.

4. Replace Meeting Materials and Work Together Better

Perhaps the greatest advantage to moving to cloud computing is that it allows multiple users to contribute to the same project at the same time. Those who have used Google Docs to update a massive spreadsheet simultaneously with a few co-workers are familiar with this functionality. Cloud collaboration finds its greatest use in software suites designed for project management and file sharing, like Basecamp or Huddle. When everyone working on a single project is using the same software and sharing the same files digitally, long printed reports become completely unnecessary and, truthfully, start to seem kind of silly.

Of course, none of this removes the need to meet face-to-face or over the phone to make decisions, brainstorm new ideas, or assign tasks to team members. These meetings usually end with a printed copy of the notes sent to every single attendee—unless you use minutes.io to take concise, automatically formatted notes online and send them as soon as the meeting ends.

5. Make a Resolution, and Stick to It

You may have the best intentions of a paperless office internally—and you may even pull it off—but your contacts outside your business or organization won’t know that unless you tell them. However, if you convince others to go paperless, it will help you stay paperless as well. Next time someone wants to hand you a piece of paper—whether it be a contract or a memo, a five hundred-page report or a business card, just remember the magic words: “Could you email that to me instead?”

By now you should be prepared to step into the world of the paperless office. Yes, really. Now that you have the right tools, and the right software, you can choke off the tidal wave of paper that flows to your desk every day. If you’re still unsure, many of these programs, like RightSignature, offer free trials, so you can get used to using the software before you have to pay a dime. The paperless office truly is here—are you ready to embrace it?

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